Marriott explores the metaverse

Everydays: the First 5000 Days is a digital work of art created by Mike Winkelmann, known professionally as Beeple. In March, an NFT of this piece sold for auction at Christie’s for US$69 million, reportedly making him among the top three most valuable living artists, according to the auction house.

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are unique digital collectible files that live on the blockchain, the digital database underpinning cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Ethereum, and are able to verify ownership of a work of digital art. This part of the emerging metaverse is a space in which Marriott International recently dabbled in at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. It displayed and gave away three NFTs during this annual, important gathering of the art community.

While cryptocurrencies can be exchanged, NFTs cannot be replaced or exchanged with something of the same value. NFTs are sometimes referred to as the “key” to the metaverse, a hypothesized iteration of the internet supporting persistent online 3D virtual environments. Luxury brands have already experimented with metaverse, opening metaverse-based flagship stores and replacing actual physical flagship stores. While NFTs aren’t a recent phenomenon, it is fairly new in the hospitality sector. Earlier this year, the Dream Hotel in Los Angeles, California, unveiled The Crypt Gallery, one of the city’s first collections of NFT art that was open to the public.

As one of the first hospitality brands to create and mint its own NFTs, innovation was at the core of Marriott Bonvoy’s marketing strategies, Brian Povinelli, senior vice president, brand loyalty, and portfolio marketing, Marriott International told HOTELS. “We’re always looking for new audiences to further express Marriott Bonvoy, celebrate travel, and foster community in new spaces, such as the metaverse. By teaming up with this talented community of artists to launch our first genesis NFT collection, it served as the strong catalyst to carry on our Power of Travel campaign message and create awareness that we are embracing the new digital world.”

On December 4 at Art Basel, Marriott Bovoy’s NFTs, created with three digital artists, were unveiled featuring the three digital artworks. Three individuals won one of the NFTs along with 200,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

  • MΞMORIED — Created by Tarek Mustapha a.k.a. TXREK (Tarek Em), and won by Andre Oshea.
  • The Emotional Journey — Designed by Jared “Jay” Richardson (JVY and won by McFlyy.
  • The Experiential In Between — Developed by Erick Nicolay and won by Renderfruit.
The NFT MΞMORIED, created by Tarek Mustapha, a.k.a. TXREK, was unveiled November 4 at Marriott Bonvoy’s event during Art Basel in Miami Beach

The importance of this new venture will be defined by how the space continues to evolve, he adds.

“If the metaverse is still, essentially, a work-in-progress concept, NFTs are way more palpable,” said Simone Puorto, Rome-based founder, CEO and futurist at Travel Singularity. He cited Beeple’s Everydays as just the tip of the iceberg of a trend which, in Q3 only, generated US$10.7 billion in sales volumes.

“With that in mind, I am not surprised that the hospitality industry wants to be amongst the early adopters,” Puorto said. “To a certain extent, NFTs will likely be the ‘bridge’ to the metaverse. For now, however, MΞMORIED, The Emotional Journey, and THE EXPERIENTIAL IN BETWEEN are nothing more than Marriott getting its foot in the metaverse door. However, it’s still quite an interesting mentality shift. We’ll probably see more exciting adoptions of the technology in the next three to five years, but this is a cool start, nonetheless.”

While Povinelli said Marriott Bonvoy does not intend to quantify the success of the initiative, it is being seen as a “symbolic beginning” to the several possibilities emerging within the metaverse and engaging with guests in a new way.

“It’s been exciting to see the positive response for our first genesis NFT collection,” Povinelli said. “Looking ahead to 2022, we’ll aim to continue building a presence within the new digital world where it aligns with our brand and marketing goals. As consumer behaviors evolve, we’ll seek moments to engage users with our portfolio of brands in a meaningful way that adds value to their relationship with us.”